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The massive amounts of applications for 3D printing is mind-boggling. These devices have revolutionized how we design and manufacture everything from replica body parts to firearms, robotics to food. And, you – yes you – can be part of this second industrial revolution.
We’ve covered 4 affordable sub-$100 3D printers on the market right now, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Did you also know there are a variety of printing materials you can use with these printers, with varying levels of biocompatibility?
But what is biocompatibility? Simply put, biocompatibility is how something works with the human body without any adverse effects. When we talk about biocompatibility within the context of 3D printing, we’re really looking at two things. Firstly, is the filament porous? If so, it can harbor bacteria (and water), which is bad. Secondly, does it leak chemicals? If so, this is obviously not biocompatible.
Some materials are more biocompatible than others, and there are other considerations to make, including whether a material is shatter-proof. If you plan to eat off your 3D printed creation, or if you’re mocking up a toy for a younger relative, you’ll want to read this article.
PLA stands for Polylactic acid, and is a filament often used in 3D printing. It comes in two flavors of rigidity, with one being significantly more shatterproof and flexible than the other.
The production of PLA is fascinating, as quite frequently it is produced from a corn by-product rather than through the processing of oil. It is often used in medical applications, including sutures and prostheses because of its excellent biocompatibility and its lack of adverse interaction with the human body. As a result, if you’re planning to make yourself some cutlery or some toys, PLA is an excellent choice.
Nylon 618 and 645
Did you know that Nylon is a portmanteau of New York and London? It’s true. It’s also true that Nylon has been around the block a few times, and since its invention in the thirties has found a multitude of use both in the consumer sphere and in military applications.
Nylon really is a wonder material. It’s long been famed for its biocompatibility, especially in the medical sphere. Most cartilage replacements are made with this stuff, and a fair number of prosthetics too. Whilst Nylon filament isn’t quite as easy to find as PLA, it is completely safe for human usage. Body hackers rejoice!
Wood filament isn’t as common as ABS or PLA is. It consists of a resin that is part wood pulp and part PLA as a binding agent.
As previously mentioned, PLA is biocompatibible. Wood also is biocompatible, however, it is a porous material, and this can soak up more water and bacteria than Billy Mays in a Zorbeez informercial. As a result, I would recommend that you exercise a huge amount of caution (if not restraint) when using it as a material for making cutlery or children’s toys.
Two other popular filaments in use today are ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PC (Polycarbonate). Whilst these both have great use cases, with both being reasonable rigid and easily accessible, neither are biocompatible.
Whilst it’s possible to get food standard polycarbonate, if you’re 3D printing with it, it’s likely that you’re instead using the industrial grade stuff. This can be quite nasty, and has been known to release Bisphenol A in room temperature, which has been shown to have adverse effects on mice according to a 2003 study.
Choosing the right filament when 3D printing is essential. As always, safety is paramount and some filaments are safer than others. Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Oranse